Internet Inquiry in 3rd Grade

My journey to find strategies could be used to teach students how to effectively find and evaluate resources found online to aid their research and scaffold(s) to help students organize their research (as inspired by ISTE student standard 3).

Let me start by first painting a scenario of a PBL project that I led my 3rd graders through last year. Based on 3rd-grade common core research standards and our NGSE science standards for plants. I began to design an authentic PBL project. My 3rd-grade classroom was conveniently located right next to our school garden. Some background on the school garden: It was not being used by the school, instead a PTA member and her family had been taking care of it out of the kindness of their hearts. A few members from the neighborhood would come by and pick some food but that was about the extent of it. Overall, the garden was in much need of some tending and planting. This presented us with a great real-life problem and it aligned directly with our learning standards. Thus, the PBL question: “How can we as 3rd-grade botanist’s develop a thriving school garden that would benefit our surrounding community?” developed. We began learning about the parts, and functions of plants and what they needed in order to survive. We then began investigating and learning about our school garden and gardens around us. We brainstormed areas of the garden that could be improved such as appearance, vegetables, fruits, herbs, and pest control. Students picked a category that they wanted to research and provide feedback on. Our cumulating presentation was a video that was to be played at a PTA meeting outlining our recommendations for improving the garden and asking for needed funds. Students began doing research in books, online and we had a botanist from Swansons come. She met with each group answering research questions and touring the garden providing ideas on how to improve the space.  In the end, students used the program WeVideo to publish their recommendations for our school garden. The videos were then sent and seen by our PTA who agreed with many of the recommendations and assured students that funds for the garden would be provided for the next spring.

Sounds like a pretty successful PBL experience, right? However, reflecting upon this experience an area I would like to improve on was my teaching of the inquiry and research portion. Many of my students had difficulty with what Kingsley and Tancock call the “four fundamental competencies that students must possess and attain to successfully complete Interner- based tasks: (1) generate high-quality inquiry topics, (2) effectively and efficiently search for information, (3) critically evaluate Internet resources, and (4) connect ideas across Internet texts.” I believe this difficulty was a result of my own lack of knowledge in these proficiencies.

Thus, I found a few resources to that outlined strategies which can be used to teach students how to effectively find and evaluate resources found online to aid their research. Below is a summary of Internet Inquiry by Tara Kinsley and Susan Tannock. I found their article most beneficial when looking for specific strategies and ideas on how to effectively find and evaluate resources that aid in research for younger learners.

The article Internet Inquiry describes 4 different competencies for internet inquiry and describes how they could be delivered in a classroom. The article focuses on strategy lessons and Internet Reciprocal Teaching model (IRT) stating: “A body of reading research shows a significant relationship between online research and comprehension instruction and student outcomes. Two general findings exist. First, specific strategy instruction led to student gains in online research and comprehension, and second, teacher modeling followed by collaborative inquiry tasks proved to be a successful instructional framework for Internet instruction (Castek, 2008; Kingsley, 2011; Leu & Reinking, 2010).” (p. 390).

Below I summarized the strategies for the 4 competencies needed for internet inquiry:

Generating Inquiry Questions Strategies:

  • Think of topic of interest and generate who, what, when, where, why questions about the topic on paper or sticky notes (p. 392).
  • Revise questions to make them more specific and delete poor questions by sorting questions into categories. Groups of questions can be representations of focus areas for student research (p. 392).
  • Provide collaboration time work with partners or groups to generate and sort questions (p. 392).

Effective and Efficiently Searching for Information Strategies:

  • Teach basic proficiencies (aka “nuts and bolts”) needed to effectively use and understand the tools available to support online research and comprehension processes. Examples include: “precursory skills, including how to open and navigate within websites, discover shortcuts, use online tools such as edit-find or copy and paste, troubleshoot issues, and understand the basic layout of a website.” (p. 393). Other nuts and bolts lessons included in the article can be found at the link:
  • Teach to search with the end goal in mind. Offer examples and/ or finished products. Teach how different end goals would warrant different information (an infographic vs. wax museum exhibit) (p. 393).
  • Determine effective keywords using a graphic organizer (ex: keywords concept map) (p. 393).  
  • Activate background knowledge to find effective keywords or use resources like an online thesaurus. “An online tool such as visuwords is effective because it depicts the relationships among the words—something a thesaurus does not do.” (p. 394).
  • Teach how to read and analyze the short descriptions and annotations under the website link, and model how to generate new keywords from them (p. 394).
  • Practice search engine skills on which has different levels of research challenges (p.394).
  • Provide guided practice and authentic opportunities to apply research searching strategies (p.394).

Determining Credibility of Internet Resources:

  • Model how to triangulate data. “Using hoax sites, such as Dog Island (see www.thedogisland. com), where dogs can “live free from the stress and hardship associated with daily life among humans,” can provide an opportunity for teachers to model the triangulation of data.” (p. 395).
  • Teach how to use Wikipedia pages as a verification page instead of a research page (p. 395).
  • Teach how to Google an expert or author for credentials and to background check (p. 395).
  • Teach what a disclaimer link is and where it can be found (use Dog Island to model) (p. 395).
  • Teach about content bias by examining potential .com commercial gains and .gov political gains (p. 396).
  • Look for mission, objective or purpose statements on websites for content bias (p. 396).
  • Determine and compare if the writing is factual based (and linked to academic and/ or legitimate organizations vs. opinion (p. 396).

Connecting Ideas Across Internet Texts Strategies:

  • Use a concept map to demonstrate how information from multiple sources comes together on one topic (p. 396).
  • Teach skimming, scanning, and note taking (p. 397).
  • Teach how to paraphrase information while noting the source (p. 397).
  • Use mind mapping to transform a concept map into an outline format (p 397).
  • Model how to take several pieces of related information form the concept map and construct meaningful thoughts around that info on mind mapping tool (p. 397).

The strategies as their pertain to the 4 competencies of internet research are a great place to start. I began “tech tips” lessons in my class to get them ready for internet research. We began by going over basic nuts and bolts needed to navigate the web, we also learned how to split screen in order to copy and paste notes digitally and learned the importance and how to give credit when we paraphrase or quote someone’s idea. At the end of every “tech tips” lesson, I have students who feel like they have mastered the internet skill (ex: copy/paste, citing sources, split screen, paraphrasing) raise their hand and I typed up their names under the skill. I then posted our tech masters list for others to see, and if they had a question about a certain skill they could go to the list and use their classmates as resources.

As a 3rd grade team (two other 3rd grade teachers and I) we blend our three third grade classes on Fridays for 1 hour. This mean that students get to learn and build community with students from other 3rd grade classes. It also allows them the opportunity to experience learning from a different teacher. Usually, the time has been spent on art and students would rotate through a different teacher each Friday and by the end of the three weeks, they would have completed 3 different art projects. For our blending moving forward I expressed interest in a new model; where students are still blended but that they stay with the teacher for 5-6 Fridays in a row and then rotate to the next teacher for next the 5-6 weeks. This would allow the teacher and students the ability to build on their learning. So, rather than be completed in one 60 minute block we would have five 60 minute blocks together.

After discussing we agreed and each picked an area to teach in which we are passionate about (that also was aligned to our 3rd grade standards). One of my co-workers will be teaching forces and motion science, the other is teaching elements of art, and I decided to teach internet inquiry.

My goal for the class is for students to pick a topic they are passionate about or want to learn more about. Then I want to guide them through the internet inquiry process using strategies and scaffolds above. One thing I will be pressed for is time. I think with 5-6 sessions I will have to be creative with what and how I teach. Below is a rough outline of my plan:

Unit Goal: Students will be able to generate high-quality inquiry questions, use the internet to find credible answers to their questions and organize their findings using a concept map.

Session 1:

Students will be able to identify what makes a responsible digital citizen.

Students will be able to generate strong inquiry questions about a topic of their choice.

Session 2:

Students will be able to paraphrase information from a website.

Students will be able to determine effective keywords (by activating background knowledge) for their research using a keywords concept map.

Session 3:

Students will be able to paraphrase information from a website.

Students will be able to use visuwords to generate effective keywords for their research and add them to their keywords concept map.

Session 4:

Students will be able to paraphrase information from a website.

Students will be able to navigate Kiddle (specifically using the description under the title to determine if it would be a helpful article)

Session 5:

Students will be able to explain how to fact check a fact or website by using triangulation.

Students will be able to find at least 1 trustworthy website that answers one of their inquiry questions.

Students will be able to give credit to at least 1 website that they found in which they plan to reference.

Session 6:

Students will be able to organize information from their website onto a concept map and group like information together.

My goal is that in 6 (short) sessions students will have a foundation for internet inquiry and when our research biography project comes up in the spring students will be able to apply their knowledge of internet inquiry to their project. I will also be working in PLC to share the strategies students are practicing, graphic organizers, and other scaffolds so other teachers can implement them in their classrooms.

ISTE student standard 3a-c laid the foundation for this research and my ideas on how to implement my learning in the classroom. I believe that through implementing the strategies from Internet Inquiry in my classroom in three different 6-week sessions I will be able to refine my teaching around ISTE student standard 3. Additionally, the 6 sessions will allow students to meet three of ISTE student standard 3 indicators below:

ISTE Student Standard 3:

Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

3a Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.

3b Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility, and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.

3c Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.

I look forward to trying these out in my classroom as well as reflecting upon the process. I’m sure I will have lots to share in the upcoming weeks.


ISTE Standards for STUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2019, from

Kingsley, T., & Tancock, S. (2014). Internet Inquiry. Reading Teacher, 67(5),389–399.

Comments are closed.